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To stop overdose deaths, this response team brings treatment options to your doorstep

Local law enforcement in Chillicothe, Ohio, have found their own way to respond to a slew of fatal opioid overdoses in their community. The Post Overdose Response Team (PORT) sets out each week to find every person in their county who overdosed the week before and try to get them into treatment. Special correspondent Esther Honig of Side Effects Public Media has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When a county in Southern Ohio saw a sharp spike in the number of fatal opioid-related overdoses, they responded by forming PORT, the Post Overdose Response Team.

    Esther Honig of Side Effects, which is a Public Media project, reports how Ross County, Ohio, has enlisted local law enforcement, addiction treatment services and the health department to work together and help curb overdoses.

  • Esther Honig:

    Every Wednesday, morning in Chillicothe, Ohio, this overdose task force meets. There’s a police officer, a sheriff’s deputy, and a social worker from a local addiction treatment center.

    The group sets out to follow up with each person in Ross County who overdosed the week before. Their mission? Get them into treatment. The program started after a string of fatal overdoses in 2016, and county leaders came together to find a solution.

  • Dave Weber:

    Out of the meetings came a decision that we needed some type of team to go out and speak with people that have overdosed, either their families or both, the family and the overdose victim. And somebody named it PORT, which is a Post Overdose Response Team.

  • Esther Honig:

    PORT allows law enforcement to take on the role of a social worker. They talk to residents about addiction and help them find treatment, even if that means driving them to facilities out of state when there’s nothing available in their area.

    Today, the team follows up with just four overdoses. In the past, they have had as many as 20.

  • Dave Weber:

    I would just like to come in one day, and we don’t have any.

  • Esther Honig:

    At their first stop, resident Chad Lurty is shocked when the PORT team tells him his friend struggles with addiction.

  • Chad Lurty:

    I think very highly of him, and my heart’s broke. I had no idea he had a problem.

  • Esther Honig:

    Recently, PORT began offering training on how to use the overdose reversal drug naloxone, also known as Narcan.

    Dave Weber, one of the deputies, said that you’re in a position to be really helpful in this situation.

  • Chad Lurty:

    I will try. I don’t want to see anybody die.

  • Esther Honig:

    And you think you might go through the Narcan training?

  • Chad Lurty:

    I’m going to very seriously consider that.

  • Esther Honig:

    Here in Ross County, the rate of fatal opioid-related overdoses is nearly double the national average and one of the highest in the state.

    Now, PORT, with a relatively small budget, has managed to get people the resources they need in time to hopefully prevent more of these overdoses from happening.

    Still, not everyone supports what they do.

  • Dave Weber:

    We have some people that are upset that we give Narcan. You know, they say that it was this person’s choice to do it, you know? But we kind of — we don’t buy that.

    My response to them is, what if it were your son, daughter, wife, or husband laying there on the ground? Would you want us to turn around and walk away?

  • Esther Honig:

    You guys need to go to them because these people are not in a situation where they can necessarily seek out help themselves.

  • Dave Weber:

    Right, right, yes. When we first get there, they’re reluctant to speak with us. We explain what we’re there for, and we’re not going to arrest them. We’re not there in a law enforcement capacity. And most of them open up and talk to us.

  • Esther Honig:

    Jessica Lutz overdosed at a store with her daughters. She remembers when the PORT team came to her door a few days later.

  • Jessica Lutz:

    My doorbell rang, and I was scared to death, because here comes my mom, like, there’s an officer and a woman at your front door and they want to talk to you.

    And I walked out there, and the officer said — he said, I’m not here to arrest you. I’m just here to make sure she’s OK. She would just like to talk to you.

    And I met Tracy Hathaway.

  • Esther Honig:

    The social worker, who was also a recovering addict, convinced Jessica that there were resources that would help her get clean.

  • Jessica Lutz:

    There is hope that people can recover. She was doing it. There was this place of people that were doing it all the time that I didn’t know existed, you know, all these recovery places that we don’t hear about.

  • Esther Honig:

    PORT got Jessica into outpatient care immediately, and after a month, a bed at a nearby recovery center.

    Right now, there are only a few programs like this in Ohio, but local lawmakers recently put aside over a million dollars to be able to replicate PORT in cities across the state.

    And the stakes are higher than ever. Each day, more than 142 people in the U.S. die from a drug overdose. That’s more than the number of people who die from gun violence and car accidents combined.

    It’s something that Jessica doesn’t take for granted. She came from rehab and credits PORT with having saved her life.

  • Jessica Lutz:

    Just to have that conversation after something like that happens, and no matter who you are, that’s so scary. We don’t want to die. We just don’t know how not to use.

    And to find somebody that understands that and knows that we don’t want to wake up and do these things every day, we don’t — there’s no pleasure in what we have to go through each and every day, just to listen to that conversation and know that it really can happen is what changed everything for me.

  • Esther Honig:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Esther Honig in Chillicothe, Ohio.

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